Managers to face scrutiny

January 23, 2003

Key points

  • Leadership Foundation to spread good management practice
  • Strategic Management Fund to facilitate alliances and mergers
  • Lambert review to make recommendations on governance changes

Greater freedom and competition will "compel" universities to improve efficiency and management, according to the white paper. Education secretary Charles Clarke said that management problems existed even in some of the top institutions. But the paper also targets less prestigious universities, suggesting that some should merge with stronger partners.

"Although there is some excellent leadership and management in the sector, some weaker institutions have been propped up rather than turned round," the document says. "This is not in the interests of the student or the sector as a whole. There is still more scope to rationalise resources to improve cost-effectiveness."

A strategic management fund to be established by the Higher Education Funding Council for England will support "alliances" as well as mergers. But it will also provide incentives for the development of innovative study programmes that depart from the three-year full-time model.

The document is less clear about the direction of governance reforms, said to have been demanded by Chancellor Gordon Brown. For example, universities will have to show they are well managed to qualify for extra research support, but there is no hint of detailed requirements.

The Lambert review of relations between higher education and business, announced by the chancellor in November, is expected to include recommendations on management practice. Its conclusions will be put to the Leadership Foundation proposed by Hefce and Universities UK.

The white paper says the foundation will draw on the best international expertise in leadership and management, and will be associated with a leading higher education institution. It will work in partnership with the new Learning and Skills Leadership College.

Higher education management poses "exceptional challenges", the document says, because of the complicated environment in which universities operate. The government proposes to help by minimising bureaucracy.

As a response to the Better Regulation Task Force, which reported last year, Hefce will be asked to reduce the number of funding streams and lighten the burden of data collection.

Other government bodies, such as the Teacher Training Agency, will be expected to streamline their administration. The working group chaired by David VandeLinde will be asked to "push the agenda forward further and faster". An assessment of the regulatory impact of the white paper proposals will be published later this year.

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